It’s safe to say that 2015 brought a heavy load of bright Nebraska music moments, and thought it’s nearly impossible to account for all of them, our staff tackles the monumental task here.
Below, find Nebraska three albums and five songs that spoke to us, provoked thought, carried us through rough patches or rocked us out.
(And, by the way, if you don’t find what you considered to be some Nebraska’s best releases here, stay tuned. Next week, we begin our string of year-end lists curated from across Nebraska music players, experts and scene figures.)
Aaron Markley – Programming Manager
Visions / Third Eye Merchants – Yet another locally made, substantive hip hop record that is well produced and has outstanding performances. I’m excited to hear more from these guys and to see them live.
Fire Flames / Anna McClellan – This record is dynamic, beautiful and unique — Anna’s voice, composition style, lyrics and melodies are certainly capable of standing alone, but here are supported by impressive arrangements that give these songs increased depth, energy and texture. While her style may not be for everyone, her talent is absolute. Fire Flames deserves a fair listen.
End of Days / See Through Dresses – So many things about this record and band that I’m into, but bottom line, I’m in love with Sara and Matt’s songwriting and energy, which are both displayed so well here. Can’t wait for the next LP.
Chris Dinan – Visuals Editor
Moments Before EP / Rothsteen – The perfect soundtrack for cruising around downtown at night. 2015 was a great year for Rothsteen. His features with acts like BOTH helped put him on my radar, but his polished production and effortlessly cool stage presence made him one of my favorites to watch this year.
Quiet EP / CJ Mills – CJ Mills has one of the most timeless sounding voices to come out of Nebraska. This EP was a great introduction to what she’s capable of. But there’s still nothing like standing front row and hearing her stunning voice in person.
He’s Not Real / Darren Keen
One of the most futuristic genre pushing albums I’ve heard this year. Keen’s new footwork sound is his strongest material yet. He has a really great Facebook too!
Nickolai Hammar – Visuals Editor
Broken Glass in the Sun / Kill County – I love this album because I love sad cowboy music. I listen to it whenever I feel too much like a city slicker.
Bothsucks EP / BOTH – As much as these two like to say this EP is trash, I listened to it over and over. Each time I listened to it I was disappointed. Disappointed that they don’t have an LP out yet. Hurry up!
Fire Flames / Anna McClellan – I had been waiting for Anna McClellan to put out an album since I first heard her play when we recorded “Midnight Storm” for the Sonata Sessions video series. We tried three or four different songs for the video and I took the audio from those attempts and severely overplayed them on my iPod. Now I’ve got a few more.
Andrew Stellmon – Managing Editor
Fire Flames / Anna McClellan – I’ve given my thoughts via On The Record, and there’s not much left to say that Markley didn’t say wonderfully, so I’ll be quick. This record explores so much musical space in the span of an hour, often within the same song (see “Pull The Pin”), while also trying to make sense of how awkward we are, how twisted and trying our relationships can be and, with somewhat of a shoulder shrug, considers how it all may mean nothing. A packed record by one of Nebraska’s most talented musicians.
Payola / Desaparecidos – Desa’s first album in more than a decade might have taken this spot on the strength of summer anthems alone. All the warm, humid nights this blasted from my car windows on the way to and from almost anything. But consider the sharp, poignant, nearly (and unfortunately) timeless social and political commentary, and it might be one of the more important albums nationwide. No national gaff, ego or problem is safe from Conor Oberst’s lyrical wit, lifted all the higher by an incredible cast of Nebraska musicians.
Everybody’s Coming Down / The Good Life – All three of these albums provoke deep thought, whether about the bounds of musicianship, the political and social woes of the day or about our place in the universe. That this one did so while cradling us in its loving-yet-jarring arms makes it stand out. It’s another come-backer, and one of the weirder ones at that. Tim Kasher explores familiar dark territory, grappling with meaninglessness from the universal all the way down to the cellular. And I can’t count the number of times Ryan Fox’s guitar wrenched my mouth to the floor.
More Like It by McCarthy Trenching (quick note: this album was my pacifier in a time of great need, and for that I am eternally grateful); Broken Glass In The Sun / Kill County; Bothsucks EP / Both; Alligator Years / Twinsmith
This list was tough – explaining each one would be grueling. They each posses qualities that suck me in and chew me up. For the most part, they’re all the perfect blend of often simple, yet masterful songwriting, beautiful recordings, and passionate performances.
“You Got Under My Skin” / Grass, Branch and Bone / Simon Joyner & the Ghosts
“Drag Scene” / End Of Days / See Through Dresses
“Drug Abuse” / Bothsucks EP / Both
“I Can’t Be” / Quiet EP / CJ Mills
“Fifty Times a Day” / More Like It / McCarthy Trenching
“Two Weeks” / High Up – High Up was such a pleasant surprise this year. An all star band in the truest sense. Every performance feels like a party and they found a way to capture that in their recordings.
“Railroad Spikes”/ Super Ghost – There’s a confidence to Railroad Spikes that even season vets have a hard time delivering.
“Carlisle” / Justin Carlisle – Justin Carlisle’s futre r&b sounds caught my ear the moment I hit play. I see lots of potential here.
“Heckler” / Death Of The Sun / No Tide – No Tide released a really solid debut LP this year. They make some killer anthemic pop tracks like Heckler that get stuck in your head for days on end.
“Dust (Enso Remix)” / Twinsmith – The original version of Dust was an immediate favorite off Alligator Years and this Enso remix does a killer job at adding another layer of chill vibes on top of it. It’s a fresh take on a already fantastic song.
“Parts of a Man” / Cooked Raw / Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal – This song is so smooth. The parts played by Tommy Van Den Berg and Mike Dee’s make me want to dance real close and real slow with everyone. This is the kind of song that you hope comes on at closing time. Sorry, was that creepy?
Just Everything / Mesonjixx – I wish they had some music out already so I could tell you the names of any of the songs I dance to. I’ve probably seen Mesonjixx more than any other band and I’m still impressed and dance every time.
“Obsidianville” / VISIONS EP / Third Eye Merchants – Downtown James Brown reasserted himself as my favorite Nebraska DJ with this EP. In “Obsidianville” his samples brings me back to a lot of the late 90s sounds that I’ve been wanting to hear for a long time. Static Soul’s delivery fills in the breaks with a familiar voice and flow that I haven’t seen since the early days of Dirty Diamonds. I want to see these guys every chance I get in 2016.
“Midwest Side” / Bothsucks EP / BOTH – I saw this song live several times this year. It always got people up and yelling the lyrics back at Scky and INFTLP. I always have fun seeing how BOTH switches up their sets from show to show. It always affects the crowd differently, always sounds different and new. That’s why I love listening to this track and comparing it to their live shows.
“Sonny” / Glass, Branch & Bone / Simon Joyner & the Ghosts – I know I’m pretty late–not even fashionably so–to the Simon Joyner party but this song brought me in and Glass, Branch & Bone kept me there. This song was an enticing mix of a slow, sad story with the light plucking sound of Joyner’s guitar behind it that turns into a huge sound with electric guitar and cymbal crashes backing his long crying shouts. I can’t believe I missed his last 21 albums. Whoops!
[Editor’s note: I’m really partial to this version below:]
I’ll try to say a few words about each of these, but my general philosophy on singles (no doubt cultivated from spinning each week on Hear Nebraska FM) is that I’m into energy, feeling, theatrics, etc. Anything to open a segment.
“Beat Up Iron” / Broken Glass In The Sun / Kill County – The diaspora of a Nebraska folk band has always excelled at communicating the most sorrowful, broken and washed out. Broken Glass In The Sun is chock full of pieces yesterday’s good times, all slipping through the listeners fingers, nicking them on the way to the ground. Save for “7 Billion Broken Hearts,” no song made me cry harder. This one gets the nod for being an HN FM stalwart (and the Live At O’Leaver’s version is excellent).
“‘80s Heavy Metal” / Party All Night / John Klemmensen & the Party – In addition to baring his chops on this heavy rock record, Klemmensen shows his penchant for the theatrical. His and Molly Welsch’s harmonies are of stage-quality throughout, and no different here. This song happens in almost three movements, set up with it’s “Earth Angel” slow dance, winding up into Klemmensen’s searing balladic solo and ending after a raunchy final verse.
“Sunday Morning” / Death Of The Sun / No Tide – On an album full of anthems, this one is the big middle finger to the spoiled kids from high school. Great sing-a-long chorus and bouncy punk verses, bookended by hard riffing intro and outro.
“The Troubadour’s Green Room” / Everybody’s Coming Down / The Good Life – When this single came out, the second after “Everybody” in the albums promotional wheel, I mistakenly projected it as a preview. Sure, there are plenty of moody moments and dour introspection. But Kasher could just as easily be singing this specific song about himself, and it’s not a leap to project onto oneself the washed-up, misguigded and lost feelings about a life led for the enjoyment or praise of others.
“Haircut” / End Of Days / See Through Dresses – The first track from the band’s first label signing, in a year where they toured internationally. “Haircut” is loud, riffy and with any luck, a sign of things to come.
“Fifty Times a Day” by McCarthy Trenching; “No Fingernails” by Better Friend; “Backsell” by Desaparecidos; “Airwaves” by BOTH; “Face To The Wall” by Digital Leather
Favorite show of 2015
Markley – *Tie*
Water Liars/James Maakestad @ O’Leaver’s
AZP/Mesonjixx/CJ Mills/OHmMG @ Slowdown 11.7.2015
photos by Chris Dinan
Nickolai -Halfwit at Duffy’s for Lincoln Calling, 10.2.2015
Halfwit hadn’t been playing much this year. They became the band that was a rare treat for me and I had to make it to every show they played. Halfwit walked on stage straight-faced like the cool cucumbers they all are when playing together. With little introduction to their set, they launched into a bunch of new songs few people had heard yet. I just remember thinking “Holy shit.” “Holy shit, this is really good.” Everyone else must’ve been thinking the same thing because Dan Jenkins had to break up a fight front and center as two full-grown men started pushing each other and nearly spilling drinks on Saber Blazek’s pedals. Later one of the men looked like he was trying to climb Jenkins’ monitor so the Halfwit guitarist/singer put the sole of his shoe on the man’s shoulder and literally kicked him off the stage.
Stellmon – AZP, Icky Blossoms, Simon Joyner & the Ghosts, 7.25.15
Even on the surface, there are so many reasons to dig this show. One of Nebraska’s most storied songwriters on a bill with its trippiest dance outfit and a road-seasoned crowd pleaser. What’s not to like?
I’m more fond of this one for what it may mean for the state. It was the last stop on HN’s Good Living Tour and easily the biggest draw of the trip. 500-plus Grand Islanders danced in the streets, and the HN crew sweat out nine hard days of stress and frustration, joy and pride. It gave us an uplifting sense of hope — as did the generous outpour of support — that we could do this thing for years to come, and that maybe we were planting the seeds for independent and original music to sprout all across the state.
I’ll never forget the past year for so many reasons, and the Good Living Tour belongs on my 2015 Mount Rushmore. Its closing act is a potent reminder.
photos by Nickolai Hammar
Cursive, See Through Dresses, Dylan Ryan/Sand at Vega; All of Lincoln Exposed 2015
Favorite national songs
In addition to our Nebraska music picks, we compiled a Spotify playlist filled with our favorite national songs of the year. Highlights include Speedy Ortiz, Beach Slang and Hop Along, all of whom enjoyed buzzy years. There’s a smattering of hip hop, jazz, folk and more. Let us know your favorites in the comments.